Last time I wrote about my determination to be a writer, and how that took me off to a Clarion Writing Workshop -- specifically, Clarion West, in 1973. When I arrived at that workshop I'd been multiply published in other fields but not in SF. And to some at that workshop, that meant I wasn't a writer.
I mention this because over the last year I've discovered a rather insidious side to publishing, something that is perhaps an expansion of that attitude: the side of publishing that wishes to equate the fact that someone is "not currently in print" with failure. There's an added assumption, and that is that a "working writer" is a writer with current credits in a particular field, so that an award winning reporter or non-fiction author might not be considered a working writer by, say, a writer of fantasy.
I, alas, do have a line I draw in the matter. I tend to think that paid publication makes a professional writer. I, for example, have been paid to write greeting card verse, to write TV commercials, and to to write short stories. Just because I'm not currently writing greeting card verse doesn't mean I can't; just because my latest short story hasn't found a publisher doesn't mean it won't.
Therein is the problem. The current confusion in the science fiction industry makes it hard for an author to be sure that a book -- even a requested book -- will be published. In some cases publishers have even turned back finished, formerly accepted and scheduled novels, because new sales projections aren't good enough. For an individual or an organization to blithely assume that a writer is a failure -- or is not a working writer -- because they haven't had a recent publication is chilling, to say the least.
In our case, Sharon Lee and I were years between books. Not because there wasn't writing going on here -- there was. Sharon and I, while working on more fiction, were also writing book reviews, travel features, and news features. One of the most important things I wrote in those years was manual on computer use by the disabled; another equally important thing was a brochure for the Maine State Department of Mental Health.
And so, when Stephe Pagel of Meisha Merlin approached us about reprinting the Liaden Universe books he discovered that there were not three of them, but seven. He bought all seven at about the time the dam broke on our short fiction as well, with several sales to Absolute Magnitude and elsewhere.
Did we suddenly become working writers? No. We've been working writers, all of those years.
My advice: don't assume someone has given up writing, or is a failure, simply because you haven't seen a book or a short story from them in the last few years. Always assume that a writer is working on a project. These days being between publishers is a fact of life for many writers and is nothing to be ashamed of, nor shunned for.
That's my take. What's yours?
A few years ago I attended a well-known Clarion writing workshop to be named later where I found myself face-to-face with several dozen writers and would-be writers. I was a published poet, a stringer for a community newspaper, and a book reviewer for more than half a dozen publications ranging from absolutely fannish, to amateur to semi-pro. I was 22 when I started the workshop (ahem, I did say it was a few years ago, after all) and 23 when I finished, but I think I aged a month a day for each day I was there.
As far as I was concerned at the time, I was a working writer, though I'd published no fiction to speak of. To some at the workshop I was an amateur -- for example, I didn't know AP style off the top of my head -- and to some I was just another long-haired dreamer. Harlan Ellison jumped up and down on one of my stories. Mark Mumper said it was impossible to do a wheelie on a racing bike (heh, tell that to the pros, friend). Joanna Russ even complained about my typing -- she had the misfortune to have the room under mine and I was using my six-horsepower Brother so-called portable typewriter on a dorm-room light-weight desk.
What aged me the most was not the criticism in class. What aged me was the fear that *this* was my big chance and that if I messed it up I'd never write anything again. Then Buzz Busby dropped by, who was just starting to write as he was starting retirement, as I recall.
Clarion West, 1973, in Seattle is when I determined that I would -- no matter the criticism -- be a professional writer. Since that time I've written and published short stories & novels, training manuals and Christmas cards, reviews -- books, music, typewriters, computers, drama, restaurants -- and more reviews, tv and radio commercial spots, travel articles, books of poetry, webpages and websites, hard news, soft news, features, and newspaper columns on chess, computers, board games, poetry, and books.